The Watchman for Souls
March 17th, 1985 @ 10:50 AM
THE WATCHMAN FOR SOULS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-17-85 10:50 a.m.
This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Watchman For Souls. It is an exposition of the second and third chapters of the Book of Ezekiel, and as a background text Ezekiel 3:16-17; Ezekiel chapter 3, verses 16 and 17.
And it came to pass at the end of seven days, that the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: therefore hear the word at My mouth, and give them warning from Me.
The first chapter of the Book of Ezekiel describes the incomparable, almost indescribable, for words could not bear the weight of the meaning of the glory that he saw. The first chapter in the Book of Ezekiel is a description, an attempt to describe the incomparable vision that the prophet saw of the Lord God. And it ends in the last verse with Ezekiel on his face, prostrate, overwhelmed by the enraptured glory that he saw. "I fell upon my face," and prostrate before God, he heard the voice of the Lord God speaking unto him [Ezekiel 1:28].
Then chapter 2 begins with what God said, "And the Lord said unto me, Son of man, stand upon thy feet," and thereafter follows his call and commission. Any great vision that we have of the Lord is in itself per se a call to service and sometimes to suffering. Any marvelous touch we have with God is for a purpose. It is an introduction to a work to which God hath commissioned us. That was so with Moses when he saw the bush burning in the wilderness and the voice of the Lord speaking out of the bush. The marvelous experience was God’s call to Moses to deliver His people out of bondage [Exodus 3:1-10].
Likewise, in the life of Isaiah when he saw the Lord high and lifted up and His glory filled the earth [Isaiah 6:1], out of the vision, he heard a voice saying: "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us" [Isaiah 6:8]? It was a call to ministry, to service. Likewise, in the life of Saul of Tarsus, when he met the Lord on the way to Damascus, falling at His feet, blinded by the glory of that light, Saul cried, "Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?" [Acts 9:6]. And God sent him as an emissary to the Gentiles [Acts 9:15, 22:21]. Any wonderful experience, any enraptured vision we have of God is always that. It is an introduction to a call and a service for the Lord.
Now what God did with Ezekiel when He had him stand upon his feet, He placed in his hand a roll of a book and said, "Eat it." "When I looked, behold, a hand was sent unto me; and a roll of a book was therein. And the Lord said: Son of man, eat, eat this roll and go speak unto the house of Israel. So I opened my mouth, and I ate the roll, and it was in my mouth as honey for sweetness" [Ezekiel 2:9, 3:3].
Again, a call of the Lord in the experience of the man who has received it is always precious. It’s a marvelous experience. Called of the Lord, set aside as a prophet, called to be a preacher, the experience is wonderful. But the disillusionment and the disappointment that accompanies the ministry is almost crushing! When he looked at the book written within and without, there was written lamentations and mourning and woe [Ezekiel 2:10]. And the book turned out to be bitter. The Lord said, "Eat it. Take the word of God into your mind, into your heart, into your soul, into every fiber of your being and go deliver the message of the Lord from Me." But when he delivered the message, it was like pouring solicitude and compassion upon the wind and upon the wilderness. The people were hostile, and the message was one of judgment.
Now, the Lord said to him in his calling, "You will dwell among briers and thorns and scorpions, and the people are rebellious and will not hear and will not obey" [Ezekiel 2:6]. But whether they heard or whether they obeyed, whether they heeded, whether they repented made no difference to the calling of the prophet. He was to deliver the message of the God, whether they would hear, or whether they would forebear [Ezekiel 2:5, 7].
The fact that the people did not receive the word did not lessen the commission and call of the prophet. He was to deliver the word anyway. This is always the characteristic of God’s message. It is to be delivered whether the people hear or will not hear, whether they will turn or will not turn, whether they will believe or will not believe, whether they are saved or whether they’re not saved; the call of the prophet of God is to deliver the word of the Lord.
Now, when we look at this calling, we cannot help but wonder, "Why does God send the prophet upon such a mission; difficult, a rebellious people; a rejected message?" Why does God send the prophet upon such a heart-breaking message, mission? Well, the answer is found in God’s heart which is like our hearts. God is moved in mercy and in compassion and in pity for His people. It is the same as a father pleading with a prodigal boy, or a mother praying for – for a disobedient girl, or for a wife pleading for an errant husband. God is like that.
If you will read the prophet Hosea, you never heard such words as God pours out in lamentable praises, and sentences, and paragraphs, and chapters over His disobedient people. "O Ephraim, O Israel," He will say, "How can I give thee up?" [Hosea 11:8]. Whether the people hear or whether they forebear makes no difference in the call and commission of the man of God. He is to deliver the message whether the people hear or do not hear, whether they will accept it or reject it.
If I could take a man out of the financial world, Roger Babson for scores of years was a financial thermometer of the United States, but he also was a moral mentor. He gave his analyses and prognostications like a preacher. He would plead with the people in saying what lies ahead for the economic and financial destiny of America. In the Roaring Twenties, Roger Babson pointed out to America that their debauchery and their godlessness was bringing a judgment of God upon the nation. And he said we are facing a financial debacle because of our unrepentant godless living before the Lord. He pled in his financial statements and bulletins for Christian graces, for a coming back to God, for a great revival.
Well, after World War I and in those Twenties, America had never seen such prosperity. They had never been blessed with such affluence, nor was America more godless than it was in those days of the Twenties. Finally, Roger Babson pinpointed the day almost and the hour when the great financial catastrophe would overwhelm the financial community of America. And it came to pass exactly as Roger Babson said.
On a dark, dark day in October of 1929, America entered the awesome Depression. The stock market fell. The whole financial world was in chaos. The reason I’m sensitive to it is I began my preaching ministry in 1927. And when 1929 came, I was living with those tenant farmers who were selling their cotton for less than it took them to produce it, selling it for five cents a pound. And all through those years, the deep, dark Depression held our people like a vise. Babson said it is coming as a judgment from God.
I wonder what that wonderful economist would say today about America, and her godlessness, and her promiscuity, and her drunkenness, and her drug addiction, and her desecration of the day of the Lord? Great God, what we face! But the man delivered his message whether the people heard it or not. And that is always the call and commission of the servant of the Lord whether they forebear, whether they hear, the message is to be delivered.
Will you look at a second thing in this call and commission of the great prophet?
I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: therefore hear the word at My mouth, and warn them from Me.
When I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; and thou givest him not warning, he shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand.
I am responsible for it. Lord, I don’t want to be responsible for him. God says I am responsible for him. And if I do not warn the man and deliver the message of God, his blood will be required at my hand. Now, that is not a unique, or unusual, or strange doctrine in the Bible. Throughout the Word of God, there is the revelation of our sole responsibility before the Lord. I am responsible for that man.
Hundreds of years later, in the twentieth chapter of the Book of Acts, the apostle Paul said, "I call you to witness this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men. For, for I have not shunned to declare unto you the whole counsel of God" [Acts 20:26-27]. Thousands of years earlier, God said to Cain, "Where is thy brother Abel? And Cain replied, I do not know: Am I my brother’s keeper?" [Genesis 4:9]. In the providence of God, in the sovereign elective purpose of God, I am responsible! His blood is on my hands!
It’s one of the most unusual providences of divine grace, that the instruments of salvation have been given to us. It is through human agency that people are saved, that they deliver their souls. For example, in the Book of Proverbs it will say, "He that winneth souls is wise" [Proverbs 11:30]. We are wise, we win souls. In the Book of Daniel, the last chapter, the statesman will say, "They that turn many to righteousness shall shine as the stars forever and ever" [Daniel 12:3]. We are to turn many to righteousness.
In the Great Commission in Matthew 28, we are to make disciples of all the nations of the earth [Matthew 28:19-20]. In the Book of Corinthians, the apostle Paul will say, "In Christ I have begotten you. I have begotten you" [1 Corinthians 4:15]. He will say in that same letter, "I have been made all things to all men, that by God’s grace, I might save some. I might save some" [1 Corinthians 9:22].
The last chapter of the Book of James says, "He that converteth the sinner from the error of his ways shall save a soul from death" [James. 5:20]. I am to convert the sinner from the error of his ways. It is an astonishing thing that in God’s scheme of grace, the instruments of salvation are human. They are in our hands.
Do you remember reading in the life of the apostle Paul? In the ninth chapter that describes his conversion when he falls at the feet of that glorious Lord Jesus, he says, "Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do? [Acts 9:4]. And the Lord said, you go into Damascus to a street called Straight for one Ananias, and he will tell you what to do" [Acts 9:6, 11-12]. Why didn’t Jesus tell him what to do? Why through Ananias?
Take the next chapter, chapter 10. The angel appears unto Cornelius in Caesarea and says to him, "You send down to Joppa for one Simon Peter who will come and tell thee words whereby thou and thou house may be saved [Acts 10:5-6]. Why didn’t the angel tell him the words? Because no man ever comes into the knowledge of the will of God without a human instrument, no exception! It pleased God that in our hands the instruments of salvation should be placed. No syllable of Scripture was ever written without a human hand, a human pen. No sermon is ever preached without a preacher. No lesson is ever taught without a teacher. No work is ever done for God without a worker. And no soul is ever won without a soulwinner!
Do you remember the apostle Paul says, speaking of our salvation in the tenth chapter of Romans, he says, "For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. But how shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?" [Romans10:13-14]. Their salvation depends upon us. The instrument of their conversion is in our hands. It is a truth to say, a divine truth to say, "God converts, God saves," but it is also a truth to say, "God saves through us. God converts through us. And without us, He does not save and He does not convert."
A man will say, “Doctor, you saved my life. You saved my life.” But only God can heal. The doctor, the surgeon may cut, but God has to heal that wound. It is only God, the Great Physician who heals, yet he says, “Doctor, you saved my life.” God did it through him, the genius of the physician.
One time, a young fellow said to me, “Criswell, you saved our lives. You saved our lives.” What happened was this: when I was a teenager and in high school, there were three of us. Winfield Printess and Thomas Metts and I decided to go see Carlsbad Cavern that had just been discovered. And the Metts family, affluent, had a brand new Chrysler sedan, and they let their boy have it that we might go see Carlsbad Cavern. So the three of us went down to Carlsbad, New Mexico to go through that vast cavern, and while we were there, we decided to see the Grand Canyon.
So, we got in that beautiful new automobile, and we drove clear across New Mexico and Arizona up to see the Grand Canyon. Well, by that time the day had arrived for us to be back in high school, back in school. And that meant we furiously had to drive back to Amarillo. So we drove day and night. We didn’t stop. The three of us took turn about in driving that beautiful new fast-moving car.
At night, in the middle of the night, on the back seat Thomas Metts is sound asleep. Winfield Printess is driving the automobile. And I am on the front seat by his side, also sound asleep. And suddenly, just like that, I was wide awake. I looked over and Winfield Printess was asleep. And the car was furiously driving toward a big bend in the road and a dark abyss beyond. I grabbed the wheel, and I turned it, and in God’s goodness and grace, it didn’t overturn, it didn’t capsize, and it was then that Winfield said to me, “Criswell, you saved our lives.”
I thought about that sentence a thousand times since then. I saved their lives, he says. Who tapped me on the shoulder? Who startled me into an awaken consciousness? Why didn’t God seize that wheel and turn it? It must have been the Lord’s gracious purpose. Why weren’t we killed? God and a human hand, and both of them do God’s work and will in the earth. And without the hand, God’s work is not done, like a sentence in that great poem: "Without Stradivarius God can’t make Stradivarius violins" ["God Needs Antonio"; George Eliot]. It is God and his human instrument. It is God and Ezekiel. It is God and his God-called minister who delivers the message and word that saves our souls.
Will you notice in a third place, the watchman is under a commission and call of God to deliver the word of the Lord? "Son of man, I made thee a watchman: thou shall hear the word at My mouth, and give them warning from Me" [Ezekiel 3:17]. "When I speak with thee, I will open thy mouth, and thou shalt say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God; whether they hear or whether they forebear" [Ezek. 3:10-11]. That is the assignment of the prophet and the preacher: to hear the word of the Lord and to deliver the word from God’s mouth. That is, the message that he delivers is not one that he has invented. He has not given it initiation or birth. It lies in the heart and e will of God. And the preacher is nothing but an emissary. He is nothing but an ambassador. He just passes along, delivers the word of the great King. Such as Paul will say in 2 Corinthians 5, "We are ambassadors for God, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God" [2 Corinthians 5:20]. The minister is not to initiate or to create or to invent his message. He is to be a voice. He is to deliver the message of the Lord.
And any opinion that he has is no more authoritative than an opinion anybody else has. Your opinion is just as good as his opinion. And when a fellow says, "Well, I look at it this way" – that’s not worth the breath to say it. What we are to do is to look at it God’s way. We are to find our opinions molded and made in the word of the Lord. What does God say? And then having listened to the word of the Lord, we are called by the Lord God to give our lives to it, to obey it. This week, for example, I was pleading with a woman whose husband is a Baptist. I was pleading with her to be baptized. And she said, “Why should I be baptized?” And my reply is simple. I did not invent it. I did not command it. It comes from God. John the Baptist said, "I was commissioned from God, the ordinance came from God. He sent me to baptize" [John 1:33]. And the Lord included it in His great commandment and Commission. When we win these people, we are to baptize them in the name of the triune God [Matthew 28:19]. We are to be buried with the Lord in the likeness of His death, and raised with the Lord in the likeness of His resurrection [Romans 6:4-5]. I did not invent that. That does not originate with me. All I am is a voice. God says that and I am to deliver the message of the Lord.
When God calls a man to preach and to deliver the message of Christ, He does not say to him, "Now, you call on your – on your finest intellectual faculties, and you think through your most brilliant imaginative approach to the gospel, and you charm the people with your eloquence, and you impress them with your brilliance, and you scintillate them with your novelties, and you entertain them with your unique approaches." He never said anything like that! All He says, "You are to hear the words from My mouth and tell them from Me" [Ezekiel 3:17]. That’s all!
And when a man is asleep in a burning house, any kind of a voice will awaken him. "Brother, awake! The fire, the house is burning." That’s all the preacher is to do. He is to deliver the word and the message of the Lord. And God says, "You are responsible to deliver that message." When I say to a lost man, "Except you turn and believe, you face a judgment day" – "If you warn him, you have delivered your soul [Ezekiel 3:19]. But if you do not warn him, his blood will I require at your hands" [Ezek. 3:18] – soul responsibility, a watchman for souls. We have a responsibility to the world, to the world. I can hardly realize that after two thousand years, most of this world has never even heard the name of Jesus. I can hardly realize that.
In one of our villages in Africa, a youth, a teenager had listened to the missionary, and he was impressed with the gospel message, the love and grace and compassion of our Lord Jesus. And he ran to tell the people in his village what the missionary said. And the young fellow turned around and came back and said, “Missionary, I forgot to ask you, when was it did you say that this Lord Jesus died for our sins?” And the missionary replied, “It was two thousand years ago. It was two thousand years ago.” And the question of the lad was normal, “And we are just now learning it? Just now hearing it?”
We have a responsibility to the whole world. We have a responsibility to the nation, to America, our country. That’s why our Home Mission appeal, our Annie Armstrong offering, our praying for the conversion and the turning of our own nation.
We have a responsibility for our city, this, our Jerusalem. I read this week:
None of our business, wandering and sinful,
All through the streets of the city they go.
Hungry and homeless in the wild weather,
None of our business, dare we say so.
What does it matter that some fellow creature,
Someone less favored in utter despair,
Weeps in a garret or mourns in a cellar
Too broken-hearted for hope or for prayer.
None of our business, can we discard it?
And be unmindful that hearts break forlorn?
Somebody’s hungry, somebody’s lonely,
Somebody’s soul will be lost ere the morn.
Ah, but One goeth, Abroad o’er the mountains
Over lost deserts with burning deep sands.
Seeking the lost one, it was His business.
Bruised are His feet and torn are His hands.
Thorn-crowned His head. And His soul sorrowing – stricken,
Saving men’s souls at such infinite cost,
We are His followers, it is our business,
Helping the sorrowing, seeking the lost.
["None of Our Busines,;" George Wharton James]
It is our business.
I heard a beautifully dressed woman was seated in a luxurious hotel waiting for her husband. And a Christian man sat down by her side there in the hotel lobby, and he began to talk to her about the Lord. When her husband came, they went upstairs to the hotel room together, but she was pensive. And he said to her, he said, “Sweetheart, what’s the matter? What’s the matter?”
And she said, “I can’t get over what that man said to me in the hotel lobby.” And he said, “Well, what did he say to you?” And she said, “He talked to me about my soul, and about God, and about the judgment, and about the meaning and purpose of life.” And the husband said to her, “Well, why didn’t you tell that man it is none of his business. It is none of his business!” And she replied, “Husband, if you had seen his face and heard his voice, you would have thought it was some of his business!”
It is our assignment, not only for our world, and our nation, and our city, but for each one individually whom we know. I cannot tell you how I felt when a businessman here in Dallas said to me, “I’ve been doing business with such and such – and called his name – for twenty-five years, and it was just yesterday that I learned he was a deacon and a Christian and a member of your church.” Twenty-five years to do business with a man and never a word of appeal, or invitation, or concern, or prayer, or care out of his soul.
In a great revival, a great moving toward God, one of the businessmen in the church got religion, you’d call it. He was moved in his heart. And he said to his business partner, he said, “John, John, I want to talk to you about the Lord. I want to talk to you about your soul. I want to talk to you about heaven and about Jesus our Savior.” And his partner said to him, “Jim, I have often wondered in these years and years that we’ve been together why you have never said any word to me about your Lord, and about your Christ, and about your Savior, and about your church, and about Jesus. I just wondered why you have never mentioned it to me.”
I may be unusual and peculiar and different. But in the fifty-eight years I have been a pastor; I have never yet been rebuffed or insulted by anyone to whom I have ever brought a loving word from the Lord or an invitation from Christ. Now, most of them to whom I speak, and most of them whom I invite, do not respond. They pass it by. They don’t accept. They don’t turn. They don’t heed. But I have done my part when I deliver the message of invitation and salvation and appeal.
All of us can do that to anybody, even a bare acquaintance. Say a good word for Jesus. Point to the Lord. Tell them of your loving interest. And Tom Melzoni said this morning fifty percent, fifty percent of the people to whom we invite to the Lord and to the church, fifty percent of them will respond in a tender and a precious way.
That is our great calling and commission. I have set thee a watchman to the souls of the people. O Lord, please God, that there might be in us that spirit of care, and concern, and invitation, and love, and interest, and compassion, and solicitude. Our evangel groups, our Sunday school outreach, all of the effort by which we speak a good word for the Lord, during the days of the week.
May God bless the seed that was sown in your heart by somebody; your mother, or father, or teacher, or a friend, a neighbor or business acquaintance. And today it brings forth fruit to God. "Pastor if you will just quit speaking and start the song of invitation, I am coming. I am ready." "Pastor, the whole family of us, we are all coming. This is my wife and these are our children, all of us are coming today." Or, "This is my friend," or, "This is my wife or my husband. We have decided for God and here we stand." Or just you, just you, "This is God’s day for me, and I am responding with my life; I am answering God with my whole heart and soul." Make that decision now, this moment, and when we stand to sing our appeal, on the first note of the first stanza, the first song, "Pastor, here we come." Down a stairway if you are in the balcony, down an aisle if you are on this lower floor, "Here I am, pastor." May angels attend you and God bless as you answer with your life. Do it now. Do it now, while we stand and while we sing.